FIBA’s decision not to offer Great Britain a wildcard for next summer’s world championships was hardly a surprise. One Eurobasket finals does not a credible contender make. For all the lobbying undertaken by British Basketball officials, for all the brash talk of what-ifs and maybe surrounding the potential availability of Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, the simple fact was that GB don’t deserve to be in Turkey. The dues are not yet fully paid.
So it is off to the qualifiers for 2011 Eurobasket for Britain’s men and women. That is a challenge in itself. But what of the following year? The Olympic Games, on home soil. A shop window for every domestic sport to bask in the spotlight.
Plus that legacy thing. “We want as many opportunities for big British moments. And we want as many opportunities for young people to be inspired to take up the sport.”
Not my words but those of Lord Coe. Yet here we are, 30 months out, and with no confirmation that GB will be invited to the hoop-la in East London. Basketball is the only sport that reserves the right to withhold an invite to the host nation at an Olympiad. For the past four years, FIBA have trotted out the mantra that GB must prove themselves “competitive” to merit a free pass. The string remains of undetermined length. No decision is expected any time soon.
The fate of the two GB sides remains in the hands of Patrick Baumann and his henchmen in Switzerland. The mathematics play their role. One host berth equals one less from Europe’s established order at the Games. FIBA are not yet sure that basketball in Britain is a serious business, not with the low profile of the domestic league, the paucity of media coverage and the relative disinterest in its own international competitions. Given the choice between, say, Greece, and GB, where would the political weight lie within the corridors of power?
So far, by necessity, it is business as usual within British Basketball. Last week, UK Sport pledged £8 million in the road to 2012. One of the largest funding packages, it suggests the government anticipates that likes of Deng, Archibald and Leedham will be marching at the opening ceremony. Yet, there is a still a nervousness. The uncertainty sits uneasily with the players, coaches and sponsors alike.
Speaking with Coe, he wants GB at his party. Why would he not? But there is a reluctance to issue edicts and make undue fuss. However, FIBA should remember this. These are the UK’s Olympics. The dues for this one have been paid out of the hosts’ collective pocket. It is a one-time opportunity to cement basketball in the nation’s consciousness. And without it, the sport may regress back into the shadows.
Patrick, the ball’s in your hands. Don’t drop it.